Homily for the
33d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Nov. 16, 2014Prov 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Matt 25: 14-30
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
“Give her the reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates” (Prov 31: 31).
I dare say that in this congregation you seldom hear a homily on Proverbs 31! But why shouldn’t you, O spouses of Christ?
Knowing, as we do, how the Lectionary is constructed, we know that the Proverbs reading is paired with the parable from St. Matthew (25:14-30). In these last Sundays of the church year, the Scriptures are turning our attention to the last days and to the impending judgment—judgment on the world, judgment on us. So this morning we hear one of Jesus’ parables of judgment, and Proverbs transports us to the ancient world’s place of judgment, the city gates. Both readings refer to rewards for industrious and faithful people, the servants of a wealthy merchant who invest his money wisely; and “a worthy wife [whose] value is far beyond pearls.”
Both readings also use the word “fear.” “The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov 31:30); i.e., she reverences and obeys him, which is the mark of her wisdom, the incentive for her behavior, and the reason for praising her. The 3d servant in the parable fears his master in the sense of being afraid of his wrath—and acts so foolishly as to incur that wrath (Matt 25:25-26).
1. “Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize” (31:11). Love binds them to each other. They trust each other. They talk intimately to each other. They prize each other. That’s a mark of true marriage, whether earthly or mystical, and it’s the goal of every Christian—to attain a complete union of heart, mind, and soul with Jesus, and thru Jesus with the Father.
2. “She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life” (31:12). What do we bring to the Lord? Whatever our calling in life, we aim to bring him good deeds—to invest his blessings wisely and return them to him with profit (to go along with the message of the parable). In our Baptism we profess a life of conversion, of renouncing the devil and all his works, and of walking with Jesus, who “went about doing good” (Act 10:38) and giving evidence that God was with him.
3. “She obtains wool and flax and works with loving hands” (Prov 31:13). Interesting variants in translations here! The Lectionary gives her loving hands, but the NAB text, and Msgr. Knox’s, read skillful hands; the JB gives us eager hands, and the KJV and RSV willing hands. The Douay Version translates the Vulgate literally, “she … hath wrought by the counsel of her hands,” which an old commentary interprets to mean “with alacrity,” i.e., with “cheerful readiness.” The Anchor Bible renders the phrase “delights to work with her hands” and offers an alternate, “of which her hands make beautiful things.” I’m no Greek scholar, but the LXX seems to say that “she makes useful things.” (I could show you the Hebrew text too, but I can’t read it or tell you what it means.) The point would seem to be that “a worthy wife,” or a good disciple, does what she does eagerly and willingly. In the context of Proverbs, she loves her husband and family, and that love compels her to work diligently and efficiently to provide for them, and not to work like a drudge (compare with the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son). We all have our duties, our responsibilities—in the household of the community, perhaps still in some apostolate. How do we carry them out? What willingness, what love, what alacrity do we bring to these tasks? Are they just chores, or something more, thru which we’re happily serving the Lord?
4. “She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.” The worthy wife, the faithful disciple, is concerned not only with those in her immediate charge but with the wider community, with the less fortunate, with those whom the OT often refers to as the widow, the orphan, and the stranger; with those whom Jesus will put in front of our noses in his parable next week, the parable that follows this week’s in Matthew 25. While charity must begin at home, with the people we live with, it must also extend to others; and I’m sure it does for you, who attend to immigrants and the elderly, among others.
5. “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting” (Prov 31:30). Well do we know that! We know what lasts: “Faith, hope, and love remain; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13).
6. “The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov 31:30). Not only the woman, of course. The ultimate praise for a good life is not that one is beautiful or talented or industrious; it is that one has served the Lord in one’s state of life with one’s attributes, talents, and industry, and served him with love or alacrity.
7. “Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates” (Prov 31:31). For all our troubles on earth, a little piece of heaven will be enuf compensation, Don Bosco used to say. Do we work for the reward—some metaphorical gold star or golden crown? Perhaps. Or perhaps we interpret the reward to be simply being with our Beloved. We’ve all observed couples who are never happier than when in each other’s company. We might look at Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet, having “chosen the better part” (Luke 10:42). Is there a better reward than to be with Jesus forever? Can there be higher praise than hearing the Divine Judge pronounce, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy” (Matt 25:21)?